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Axl Rose’s Feelings On What it Means to be a “Member” of Guns N’ Roses

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Last week, we learned that original Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler is probably going to be involved in the band’s upcoming reunion in some capacity — although chances are, so will Chinese Democracy-era drummer Frank Ferrer. Furthermore, rumors continue to circulate that former rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin and drummer Matt Sorum will also be involved, but, again, not at the expense of their successors (Ferrer and Richard Fortus).

The fact that this effort to acknowledge all the various musicians who have played with GN’R over the past thirty years is taking place raises an interesting philosophical question: what does it actually mean to be a “member” of Guns N’ Roses? Who’s in the band? Who isn’t? Can we even really call it a band when musicians will appear and reappear literally during the course of a single show?

Funny enough, a twenty-five-year old interview with Axl Rose may provide us with some insight. Conducted for RIP in by Del James — Rose’s friend and tour manager, and official biographer — the interview eventually covers this very topic. When asked if Sorum is or is not a member of Guns N’ Roses, Rose responded:

“This ‘member’ thing is quite interesting. l read in an interview where Matt [Sorum] said that if he didn’t get made a member, he wasn’t going to be in Guns N’ Roses. The truth of the matter is, Matt’s a member of GN’R, but it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s kind of like a clubhouse/gang thing. We’re all members of this gang. What it boils down to is, whose yard is the tree house in? “

We all know the answer to that question, at least from a legal standpoint: the tree house is in Rose’s yard. Looking back at this interview now, it seems clear that even five years before founding members Slash and Duff McKagan would quit the band and sixteen years before the release of Chinese Democracy, Rose considered Guns N’ Roses more of a brand than a band (he goes on to stress that not only do the votes of Slash and Duff carry more weight than Sorum’s, but so do the votes of the band’s then-manager, Doug Goldstein).

While Rose’s somewhat unique view of what it means to be in a band may disturb some fans who prefer to think of a music group as cohesive unit, there is arguably something admirable about it: today we know that most bands are really just the person who owns the name and whomever he or she sees fit to work with. Rose was, in a very weird way, far ahead of the curve.

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